Website: Tinon Winery
Country Location: Hungary
“I’m not a revolutionary. I came with an idea, to build something” — Samuel Tinon
Although born in the sweet wine appellation of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont in France, Samuel Tinon has chosen Tokaj as the best place to grow wine and raise his three children. He’s also quick to remind us all that Tokaj was the favored drink and muse for Leo Tolstoï, Pablo Néruda, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Diderot, and Voltaire, so he’s already in good company. As the first Frenchman to settle in Tokaj in the modern privatization era, he’s also convinced that Tokaj possesses all the same greatness as Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy. For the past 500 years Tokaj has demonstrated distinctive terroirs, ideally suited grapes, and unique winemaking styles that according to Samuel, feels “privileged to be part of the active reconstruction of such a Great Wine area…the backbone of a very rich life.”
After consulting in Australia, Texas, Chile, Italy, traveling to the Jura and Jerez, and an additional 15 years just in Tokaj did he finally start his own production in 2000. What’s so compelling about his approach to farming, winemaking and representing Tokaj as a whole is that according to Samuel, “it's hard to find a good balance between paradoxal parameters, like conservatism and modernity, action and inaction, convictions and doubts, choices with short/medium/long term, national and international. It is a permanent challenge with Nature and human relations. And it's full of discoveries.” Keeping these sentiments in mind, his wines are among the most transportative, delicious and intellectual we’ve encountered.
He also covers the entire range of traditional Tokaj from Dry Szamorodni, Sweet Szamorodni, Tokaji Aszú, and finally Eszencia. That said, what he makes in a given vintage is determined more by the conditions in the vineyard and the cellar than what the market wants. As Samuel says, “It is not I who is driving the wines, the wines are driving me!"
In the vineyard
Setting up shop in the village of Olaszliska just north of the village of Tokaj near the banks of the famous Bodrog River, Samuel farms roughly 5 hectares in this area (Határi vineyard) and an additional couple of hectares on the slopes of Mt. Tokaj. The soils on Határi have a 15 million year old volcanic base (tuffa, obsidian), broken up limestone and clay. With 10,000 plants per hectare (90% Furmint, 10 % Hárslevelű), and some as old as 90 years, no herbicides or pesticides are used and no tractor usage. Everything is done by hand.
The vineyards on Mt. Tokaj are predominately Loess (the only loess in the appellation is found here) and the same approach to viticulture is employed. On Mt. Tokaj the elevation and wind are key and at Határi the bordering Zemplén forest protects the vines from the frigid wines from the North. As arguably the first classified vineyard appellation system in the world, there is over 500 years of trial and error at work in the region.
In the cellar
Samuel makes traditional Szamorodni — dry and sweet, Tokaji Aszú, and Eszencia. Originally called Ordinárium (ordinary wine) in the 1600’s, Főbor (prime wine) after that, and later, due to the immense popularity in the Polish market, Szamorodni (as comes off the vine) became the official name (itself a Polish word) in the early 1800’s. In short, this refers to healthy, shriveled and botrytized grapes all being harvested and fermented together. After some short skin contact the grapes are pressed into barrel for a minimum of two years for the sweet Szamorodni. The resulting wine is less oxidative than a traditional Aszú and much less than a dry Szamorodni, and yet extremely concentrated given its naturally high dry extract.
Dry Szamorodni goes a few steps further by adding Claspodorium cellare (a special mold that covers the entire cellar) and a native yeast veil (flor) that protects the wine in barrel. Not only are these yeasts specific to Tokaj's volcanic cellars, but the evaporation rate is also the reverse of Jerez in that alcohol evaporates without water loss so the wines actually lose .5% alcohol each year. For Samuel, it was actually by mistake and luck that he realized he could make one. He had two barrels of 2001 Aszú that seemed destined to spoil and actually marked them as “throw away” in the cellar log. He happened to hold onto them over the summer only to discover that the yeasts had changed the wine into Szamorodni. Nature gave the gift and Tinon perceived it as such and is now determined to explore and preserve its production. In any case, after one night of maceration on the skins, primary fermentation took about three weeks. After 6 months on the lees, the first blending took place and the resulting wine spent 5 years in 220L barrels with both previously mentioned cellar micro-organisms at work. The final blend was made after these 5 years. This is the only dry wine made from Botrytized grapes (and certainly under flor) and perhaps the reason why the Comte de Chalon came from the Jura to live out his life in Tokaj.
For the 5 Puttonyos, the residual sugar must have a minimum of 120 g/l. Aszú berries are mashed into a super sweet thick black paste and macerated in a finished dry wine for a month. After a long and slow 2 years of barrel fermentation, Samuel is careful to never hermetically seal off the wine — there is always contact with oxygen. This balance between building good oxidation into the wine brings out an incredible aromatic profile. The wine also finishes so stable that no sulphur is added at any time.